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Carpet-bagging Charges May Not Sink Bob Kerrey's Campaign Carpet-bagging Charges May Not Sink Bob Kerrey's Campaign

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Politics

Carpet-bagging Charges May Not Sink Bob Kerrey's Campaign

March 16, 2012
In his campaign for the late Sen. Robert Byrd's seat, Republican businessman John Raese took heat for owning a home in Florida, where his wife was registered to vote. The carpet-bagger label haunted him all the way to Election Day in West Virginia. Less than two weeks before the election, now-Sen. Joe Manchin's campaign released a brutal television ad that zeroed in on Raese's Sunshine State connection. Even Bill Clinton, whose wife, now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, once faced carpet-bagging charges during her New York Senate campaign, got in on the fun. During a campaign appearance for Manchin, Clinton told West Virginia voters: "I don't think it's fair for West Virginia to have one senator and Florida to have three." Combined with Raese's wealth, the Republican's residency problem helped the Manchin campaign paint him as out of touch with West Virginians. Raese lost the race -- which was once neck-and-neck -- by ten points. That same year, now-Sen. Dan Coats overcame a residency headache of his own and won his campaign against Democrat Brad Ellsworth in Indiana. Like Kerrey, Coats attempted a Senate comeback after more than ten years away from his home state. Coats faced questions -- from both Democrats and his Republican primary opponents -- over his loyalty to the Hoosier state. After leaving the Senate, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany and, later, a D.C. lobbyist. He had switched his voter registration to Virginia and purchased a vacation home in North Carolina. In a video that made the rounds early in the campaign, Coats tells North Carolinians that the Tar Heel State is a "better place" than Indiana. In response to the growing attention his residency was receiving, Coats immediately rented a home in Indianapolis and openly addressed the complaints. "Whenever Coats was asked about it, he was open, honest and up front," Pete Seat, Coats' campaign spokesman, said in an email. Opponents tried to keep the carpet-bagger question alive with little success. Part of the reason was the electoral climate. 2010 was unkind to Democrats, especially so in the increasingly Republican state of Indiana. Ellsworth often subtly jabbed Coats by referring to himself as a "lifelong Hoosier," but Coats won by more than 10 points. "Our opponents in the primary and general ... made the mistake of focusing their campaigns on some mythical threshold of 'how Hoosier' someone was," Seat said. "And it failed -- both times." Kerrey's campaign has adopted a similar tactic. Campaign manager Paul Johnson explained that they've opted to directly address the matter head on. "I think most Nebraskans find that argument fairly insulting," Johnson said. "It's a good thing when people come back home." Rather than shy away from the issue, Kerrey addressed it head on in his first two campaign ads. The first features a collection of Nebraskans welcoming Kerrey home add touting his past contributions to the state and the country. At the end of the second ad, Kerrey says, "It's good to be back." Republican Attorney General Jon Bruning welcomed Kerrey to the race with a television ad saying Bruning and Kerrey were "are as far apart as Nebraska and New York City." The ad later describes Kerrey as "New York liberal." In his own spots, Kerrey tried to leverage the accusations as a means to reintroduce himself to Cornhusker voters and highlight his long career of service as a Vietnam veteran who went on to serve as governor and senator. "We wanted to use that as a means of talking about Bob's background ... for people who aren't as familiar with him," Johnson said. "It's as much a biography as it is addressing the issue of him having been in New York." But even Johnson acknowledges that the carpet-bagger question probably won't go away any time soon. Republicans think they can hurt Kerrey on the issue, particularly because of the specifics of this case - with Kerrey moving to New York City, of all places. Carpet-bagging charges affect campaigns differently, depending on the specifics of a race. Kerrey and Johnson hope that the outcome in Nebraska will be more Coats than Raese.
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